How to learn a language from scratch and keep yourself motivated? (aka my Hungarian Journey)

This has been something going around my mind that lately, but now I have got it out of my mind and I feel ready to share it and talk about some methods that may help you in any language you are interested in.

So, since practically the first week of November, I started to learn Hungarian. On my own.

Choosing the right notebook can help you have fun learning a language :)

Choosing the right notebook can help you have fun while learning a language 🙂

What is my purpose from this? Be able to hold small talk and probably feel comfortable with talking or writing about my interests and so in Hungarian. It won’t be an easy thing, considering that Hungarian grammar is very different from the languages I’ve learned or I am acquainted with. Also, Hungarian doesn’t use as much loan words from other languages as you may think. The word for History? Történelem (and all I can think of is cake with it 😛 ). All of that might sound disencouraging… considering also that I live far away from native speakers or chances to practice it in real life. Yet, there are several steps I have taken in order to have an effective, motivated and interesting learning experience with all of those obstacles that seem hard to fight with.

  • MOTIVATION: If we can compare language learning to a machine, motivation is the energy or fuel that keeps it alive. It may come in different shapes or inputs, but it should be the main thing that keeps your engine running. Otherwise, you won’t be able to keep it up with as much as you can. With Hungarian, my motivation came in the shape of literature, music, history and of course, being acquainted with other learners (either in Hungary or online) that have showed me that it is possible to learn it, that it is an interesting language. They can be really helpful if you want to look for advice, keeping up with your motivation or sharing materials and techniques to be more acquainted with it.
  • WHAT KIND OF LEARNER ARE YOU?: This is also an important step to tackle when you learn a language. Are you a visual learner? Do you learn by listening? Do you prefer a classroom-like environment? Do you prefer to simply start using the language right away? It all depends on you and how well you know yourself.  Also, be aware if you are a procrastinator. Maybe, self learning won’t be effective if you tend to lose the focus of your attention every now and then, or so. I rediscovered that I am a learner that likes to create his own material. I have a small notebook in which I write down new phrases, vocabulary and so… since by the simple act of writing them and paying full attention to that act of writing, I feel like I learn it by heart. Also, I like writing down lyrics of songs and lately, I have met tandem partners who are native Hungarian speakers that have taught me new words and are willing to help me in my journey. Sure, I am not in the stage in which I can speak to my tandem partner in Hungarian or so, but for example it is perfectly okay to talk about your life or so with your tandem partner and ask them to teach you at least 2-3 daily words and how to use them effectively. It works for me. Not only I practice my language, but I also get to know the daily life, customs and other interesting cultural things about my target language.
  • MATERIALS: It is an important thing to use materials in any kind of learning situation. A simple Internet search might help you look for materials both in legal and “non legal” means (my advice would be, if you have the money available for good material, please BUY IT! If you are in a vulnerable situation financially or so, well… you know what to do! 😉 ). Also, you can create your own material for learning, suited to your needs and interests. Instead of cliché phrases with references might not get or sound too boring, you can ask an educated native speaker or an experienced learner to introduce things with music, films or even your casual conversations about topics. In this situation, media consumption ALWAYS HELPS: news portals, articles, music radios, television, films, you name it! Anything from the topic that might interest you would be a really good sign. I often play Hungarian radio while working or resting at home. I might not get most of the things they talk about, but it helps you to be acquainted with intonation, new artists and music bands (and with the help of Shazam, discover new artists!) and of course… associate certain words to the right pronounciation.

There are plenty of places to contact fellow learners and educated native speakers of your target language: Facebook groups, Tandem sites and apps (like Hellotalk), you name it. One thing you must keep always in mind is


Be creative with it. If your motivation is literature, get acquainted with the literary scene 🙂 if it is the people, be acquainted with them! Yet, with no actual motivation, you won’t get far. The goal is turning that motivation into a PASSION. A passion that it won’t wear out despite obstacles and adversities (more or less, that happens to me with Polish, which I will continue learning it no matter what, and it is still my priority 1 and 2!).

Have you tried learning a language from scratch and basically on your own? How was the result? Have you felt passion for a language? Share your experience in the comments!



  1. I’m about to. I want to learn korean. I found some really basic grammar lessons online and now that I’m back from vacation, I’ll check them out. I do want to take a class next year (there’s one at Universidad Central) but I want to see if I can get into it before paying for lessons.

    Best of luck with Hungarian. 😀

  2. You’ll be able to pronounce my name properly! (because I still don’t know how to do it xD)
    I want to learn italian, but playing in Duolingo is all I’ve done. I’ve searched for classes, but they’re too expensive! So I guess I’ll just do it on my own.

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